Friday, July 23, 2010


Whenever I hear anyone critize an index and assign the blame for errors to the indexer, I cringe. I myself admit to having been guilty of that, which I actually think is odd considering that I have done plenty of indexing in my life.

Below you will find a snippit from the 1880 Rice County, Kansas, Federal Census. The first person you see is listed in the index (which was, at some point, probably done by a volunteer indexer) as "Stephens, Jheotes." The problem here, of course, is that the census taker was not very careful and he/she made some of the tall letters from the wife's name jut up into her husband's name on the previous line. Who would ever think such a thing would cause anyone grief? After all, it wasn't the names that the census makers were looking for; they were gathering all different kinds of data, never suspecting that many, many years down the road genealogists would be looking for specific people.

Anyway, when the indexer came to this name, I'm sure he/she tried to get it right. But I have to tell you, indexers don't like it when they have to figure out what on earth a name is. We know we are likely misreading it, but we try our best. If you were the indexer, what would you say the husband's first name was?

It actually is "Chester." If you look carefully, you can see how the indexer came up with Jheotes. For years I looked in the index for my family. I knew they were there; I just couldn't find them in the index. As it turned out, the census taker misspelled their last name (should have been Stevens) and when I finally did an index search using "Stephens" I found them....but I also found Jheotes.

My point is, handwriting causes a lot of grief for indexers.

When I was a kid in elementary school, we had major time devoted to handwriting skills. I don't remember what school of handwriting was taught in those years (1940-45), but it certainly wasn't the Spencerian handwriting style, which is shown in the top illustration. This is called the "Ladies" style; males got a different style. Looking at such clear illustrations hides the fact that when you actually see something written in this handwriting, it is most hard to read. All the gee-gaws and curly-cues almost hide the individual letters.

I am presently doing some indexing of birth certificates for babies born in Jamaica in the 1900s. On nearly each capital letter there are "flyaways" (my term) that lead the eye on a merry chase and lead the brain in a struggle to figure out whether the letter is a Y or a Z or a G or a J or a -- and so the indexer must make a decision. All I can say is that I do my very best. If your ancestor Achilles Zount isn't in the Z's, look for him in the G's or the Y's. Sometimes it's any man's guess!

In some recent indexing of Oklahoma people, reading the data sometimes doesn't make sense. The indexer is to index what is written and not correct errors they might find. Let me tell you that often it is hard to do. I want good data for all the future researchers so they will have a better chance of finding the object of their hunt, but I input what I see. When I indicate the following persons as men, I just have to shake my head and wonder what the Oklahoma mothers were thinking about: Rubie, Norma, Lacie, Hollie, Joyce, Perl, Lois, Una, Loraine,Vivian, Eunice, Gay, Garnet and Maudie. But who am I to say who is wrong? I named two of my three daughters masculine names - Bryn and Kerry - thinking they were way too pretty to waste if I didn't have any more sons.

Getting back to handwriting, I rarely use the handwriting style I was taught in school. I do think one's handwriting style has a significance; I don't think I need to have mine analyzed, although it might be fun to see what is supposedly signifies.

And getting back to indexing, please don't always jump to conclusions that the indexer was being exceptionally stupid. We usually aren't. However.....

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